A Day in Crystal City

For my readers in the Southern Tier, a great day trip to Corning, NY can be a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of Binghamton and surrounding areas. Corning has a lovely little main street scene, with antique shops, boutiques and a good variety of restaurants. For my Northern NY readers, it’s more of a weekend getaway locale. You can spend one day exploring the main street and shopping in nearby Horseheads, and the other at the Corning Museum of Glass. The museum is so much more than you think – not just shelves full of blown glass, but everything from Swarovski crystals, to early light bulbs and TV screens, to exquisite halls full of glass-based treasures and oddities, and live hot glass exhibitions. If you’re making a weekend of it, I recommend staying at the Radisson, which is right at the end of Market Street, the aforementioned main street of Corning. Not only is the Radisson really nice, but there’s a fantastic restaurant right there, called the Grill 1-2-5, and an indoor pool. The restaurant has some great, eclectic choices, and the wait staff is really exemplary – far and above what you usually find in hotel dining rooms.

My parents and I visit Corning once a year for the Miss Finger Lakes pageant, which is held in late February. We always stay at the Radisson, and usually have dinner at Sorge’s Restaurant, on Market. This venerable old beauty had a catastrophic fire in 2008, but has undergone extensive renovations and emerged quite gorgeous, with new interiors to match their fantastic food. We’ve enjoyed their Saturday night pasta buffet in the past – their red sauce is divine, and the cannelloni Florentine is superb – which, for $14 includes a glass of wine. I suspect we’ll be back this coming February, and maybe we’ll sit downstairs in the new dining room and order off the menu. I’m dying to try the braciole, which is one of my favorite Italian delicacies.

Sorge’s: Same sign; new restaurant

More recently, Melinda and I took a day trip to Corning and decided to try lunch at the Market St. Brewing Company. This spot, in the middle of the bustling main drag, has a lovely outdoor seating area (two actually, there’s a rooftop deck as well) as well as attractive indoor dining. I had been to MSBC before for lunch and tried the chicken pot pie, which was quite good. It’s still on the menu, and I recommend that. Melinda and I ordered the MSBC loaded chips, which are thin cut fried potatoes heaped with bacon and a fantastic beer-cheese sauce. These were to die for, crispy but not too crunchy, and ooey gooey. The sauce had terrific flavor – tangy with the beer and what I’m guessing to be a sharp cheddar cheese. This isn’t a light starter by any stretch of the imagination, but it is satisfying and delicious.

Hello, bloody marys. How you doin’?

I should probably mention that we also began the meal with bloody marys, as we do. They were super spicy, with a bite that didn’t come from horseradish, so I’m guessing there was some hot sauce in the mix. Not the best I’ve had, but a strong showing. There also are microbrews on tap, and a really good selection of artisanal and hard-to-find beers from around the globe, if you’re into that sort of thing. We even saw a fellow leaving with a growler, so that tells me you can get their beer to drink at home, like at a lot of the brewpubs in Rochester.

Melinda ordered the turkey avocado wrap as her entrée, and it was OK. It had turkey and avocado, obviously, plus something called a chipotle aioli that wasn’t particularly spicy or smoky. Melinda ate half of the huge wrap, but wasn’t overwhelmed. We both ordered the Caribbean sweet potato salad as the side to our meals, and both were brought chips and salsa instead. We had our waiter go back for the salad, and really shouldn’t have bothered. He explained the dressing as mustard based, which is confusing to me if you’re calling something a Caribbean salad. And the result was neither mustardy nor Caribbean in any identifiable way. The big chunks of sweet potato, white potato, cucumber and corn were yummy, but the sauce didn’t have any flavor whatsoever. From a so-called Carribean salad, I expect mango, or maybe habernero peppers, papaya or coconut. This just tasted like a very bland vinaigrette.

My entrée was the pulled pork sandwich with BBQ beer sauce, topped with, you got it, Carribean slaw. LOL. Again, the slaw might as well have stayed home for all the personality it lent the meal. The meat was the star here – plenty of succulent pulled pork bathed in a tangy, light BBQ sauce. I love BBQ but hate super-sweet thick sauces, so I was pleased with the offering. It wasn’t the best pork BBQ I’ve ever had, but it was pretty good.

Sad, sad slaw

Overall, Melinda and I gave MSBC a six out of 10. Great location, good ambiance, nice wait staff, great appetizer, and mediocre entrees made for a mixed bag when it came to giving it a numerical rating. Honestly, I think I would have rated it higher had it not been for the disappointing side dishes. Why call something Caribbean if it’s not? And if we hadn’t ordered the potato salad, we would have been stuck with that sad little cup of salsa you see above. Big Hungry’s advice to MSBC would be to nix both these choices and serve your fantastic homemade chips alongside your sandwiches. You could charge a dollar or two more per item, and everyone would leave happier.

I would like to hit MSBC up for dinner sometime to check out other options. They have a pork osso bucco on the menu that’s calling my name. But I admit, it will be hard to risk another mediocre meal here when Sorge’s is so fantastic, and there are other great-looking options up and down Market Street, like the intriguing Holmes Plate, which serves authentic smoked BBQ and smells outrageous, or the Three Birds Restaurant or Tony R’s Steak and Seafood, which both had yummy-looking menus posted out front.

Wherever you decide to eat in Corning, do make the trip. It’s not touristy like more traditional getaway spots in New York State, but there’s lots to see and do. And because I know at least one Big Hungry reader lives in Corning, give me a shout out in the comments below and let me know your favorite eats in the Crystal City! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

Market Street Brewing Co. and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Market Street Brewing Co. and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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